5 Predictions for Partnerships and Alliances in 2021

Peter Lai
6 min readJan 7, 2021

This is the time of year when a flood of end-of-year recap and new-year-predictions arrive. If you’re an avid reader of industry trends and opinion pieces like I am, then you’ve already read a few by now and probably have more bookmarked for later consumption. To help you quickly understand what 2021 and beyond holds for the partnerships industry, I reviewed over thirty articles from publications, blogs, and interviews to find the top predictions.

The common thread going into 2021 that you will notice is that the lingering effects from 2020 have turned the industry upside, and this year, businesses will be reacting to the new opportunities that have emerged. Companies have learned to adapt to a work-from-home culture and will see 2021 as the year to automate and invest in growth. Even in a down year, major acquisitions that occurred in 2020 and 2021 will see an increase as new markets and customer segments emerge. The remote work and digital transformation movement will continue to increase for businesses resulting in a massive opportunity for channel partners as the spotlight moves towards security and infrastructure. The partner and buyer experience has been redefined, and companies will have to adapt if they want to reach the new buyer and enable partners to become successful along the way.

New Business Opportunities Emerge

Large companies were making headlines with significant acquisitions in 2020, and we will continue to see this trend in 2021. By leveraging M&As to tap into new markets, the channel ecosystem will continue to reinvent itself and add business value to customers. In addition to these acquisitions, new businesses will enter the market as a result of 2020. In IDC’s recent worldwide IT channels and alliances report, by 2021, at least 30% of the channel would not exist in the format we know today. New types of partners are already entering the ecosystem, such as cloud service brokers, digital systems integrators, digital agencies, and third-platform startups. These new entries will offer IT-centric solutions and services and will be emerging as non-traditional partners for technology vendors.

Another innovation that will create new opportunities for channel partnerships is the continued maturation of 5G. With over 100 global 5G networks launched, the shift from hype to monetization begins. Industry experts predict an increase in companies offering cloud solutions to take advantage of the high-speed, low-latency network. During a recent virtual conference last month, Forrester predicted more than a 30% increase in IoT partners, a 40% increase in MSP and cloud partners, a 40% increase in ISVs, IHVs, app partners, and a 50% increase in strategic alliances. The reliance on network infrastructure has never been more critical than they are now, with businesses and customers relying on the cloud for education, telemedicine, multiparticipant video calls, and social applications.

Small and Medium Businesses Open Doors to New Opportunities

In the U.S., only 47% of small and medium businesses have their own website. In 2021 and beyond, we will see small and medium businesses that haven’t touched cloud, or even services like Microsoft 365, take advantage of cloud technology. SMBs will need to invest in IT to accelerate their digital transformation as tools that may have been a small part of their business transformation goals are now an absolute necessity. As SMBs evaluate what solutions are needed for their infrastructure, this will be the potential business for channel partners to capture in the long run. Decision-makers will look to optimize their quick-fix solutions to WFM, which brings us to the next point.

Quick Fixes Now Become Permanent for Businesses

In 2020, businesses deployed quick-fix solutions to keep their employees safe. As these businesses continue to stick with work-from-home (WFM) in 2021 (48% will continue to work from home in 2021), they will now optimize these solutions. These businesses currently rely on the latest applications and automation to increase productivity, drive operational efficiencies, and maintain a competitive advantage. Still, they will need to rely on people with the vision to develop, implement, and carry out their long-term technology plans. Cybersecurity will remain a top concern and will only increase as personal in-home networks’ continued use creates potential security vulnerabilities not controlled by IT.

As the need for end-to-end security and compliance that combines network, application, and end-user rises, IT resources’ value is at an all-time high. As a result, IT services must be continuous, regardless of external factors, providing automated deployments and minimal-touch maintenance. The new era of hybrid and multi-cloud services will increase significantly. MSPs will become valuable partners as businesses accelerate infrastructure migration from legacy systems to the cloud, eventually leading to the cloud-only business stack becoming the norm.

Redefine the Partner Experience

2021 will be the year that partnerships will continue to reinvent themselves due to the business changes caused by the pandemic. With businesses operating remotely, partners will increasingly seek resources to become savvier in engaging with customers in virtual settings. As companies continue to invest in their digital partner experience in the absence of in-person face-to-face meetings and events, partnership leaders must remain agile as conditions will change throughout the year. To keep current on the partners’ needs and satisfaction, you must commit to the partner’s digital experience.

Invest in the partner experience by focusing on these five strategies:

  • The compelling financial return on the offered solution
  • Organization support, alignment, and collaboration opportunities for partners
  • Easy access to programs and tools that enable partners to succeed
  • Frictionless processes and tools that allow partners to interact and conduct business
  • Timely promotion and communication of relevant content

Active partners will look towards those who pay close attention to the experience and gravitate towards strengthening those partnerships. For some, ignoring the partner experience could mean the potential of being left out of lucrative opportunities. If you haven’t implemented a program around the partner experience to listen to the partners’ needs and formalize the partner’s voice, it’s time to start.

The Buying Experience Will Matter

Image source — Forrester

B2B buyers in 2020 will continue to their dependence on digital marketplaces. The level of friction they experience during the early stages in the buying journey will significantly influence their decision to buy. The world of B2B buyers is shifting to subscription and consumption models. In 2021, Forrester estimates that 73% of business buyers find buying from the web more convenient, and large companies are paying attention to this trend. We saw companies such as HPE, Dell, and IBM announced their commitment to offering subscription and consumption services and expect to see this trend continue in 2021 and beyond.

With so many potential buyers going online to make purchase decisions, this does not leave many touchpoints for vendors and channel partners to engage with the buyer. All buyers have a close network of influencers that they can relate to, and as a result, trust their product recommendations. It will be necessary for partners to allocate resources for social selling strategically. Partners will need to understand where the buyer goes, what they read, their behaviors, and their goals to bring a customizable solution that will win. While influencer marketing may be relatively new to some, the more people who talk about your product early in the buyer journey, the better chance you have at earning a set at the buyer’s table of influencers.

We are coming out of one of the most challenging years in recent memory. However, there are opportunities ahead. As the industry continues to transform, partners will continue to adapt to meet the evolving customer expectations and be prepared for the next challenges ahead.

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Peter Lai

I help businesses build and leverage successful partner programs